Israeli Arab journalist held after visiting Lebanon

Majd Kayyal, released to house arrest Thursday afternoon, is suspected of meeting with Hezbollah agents

Israeli Arab journalist Majd Kayyal (screen capture: YouTube)
Israeli Arab journalist Majd Kayyal (screen capture: YouTube)

An Israeli Arab journalist was arrested over the weekend and held without being able to contact family or a lawyer after visiting Lebanon.

The detention of Majd Kayyal, a well-known activist and writer, was kept under gag order until noon on Thursday. He was released to house arrest on Thursday afternoon.

Kayyal was taken into custody by the Israel Police and the Shin Bet Saturday at the Sheikh Hussein Border Crossing for suspected contact with a foreign agent and visiting an enemy state.

A Tel Aviv magistrate court extended Kayyal’s detention until Tuesday, in a hearing held Thursday.

Israeli security agencies believe that Kayyal, 23, met with Hezbollah operatives during a brief visit to the Lebanese capital of Beirut, Walla reported.

His lawyer said he had been questioned about contacts with Hezbollah and nothing had been proven, a spokesperson for Adalah — The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel told The Times of Israel.

According to the Associated Press, the Shin Bet said it had dropped that suspicion and was looked into indicting him for traveling to Lebanon.

Although Lebanon bars Israeli citizens from entering, the Shin Bet says Palestinian officials in the West Bank gave Kayyal Palestinian travel documents.

Kayyal is a resident of Haifa and a web editor for Adalah and writes for the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir.

According to Adalah’s Facebook page, Kayyal was returning from a conference to mark the 40th anniversary of As-Safir in Beirut.

The paper, seen as independent, recently published an exclusive interview with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

According to the Shin Bet, Kayyal does not hold an Israeli press card. The security service is expected to make a decision in the coming days whether to continue investigating him or file charges, Haaretz reported.

Adalah’s lawyers, who intend to represent Kayyal, attempted to visit him after his arrest, but the police issued a gag order preventing the meeting until Wednesday.

Kayyal’s primary lawyer, Sawsan Zaher, told Israel Radio that Kayyal has been kept in poor conditions since his arrest five days ago, and was not allowed to see his family.

Supporters of Kayyal intend to hold a protest rally for him in Haifa Thursday night.

Aram Mahameed, a representative of Adalah who met with Kayyal Wednesday, said that the journalist admits to participating in a conference in Beirut, but rejects any attempt to suggest he met with suspicious characters outside of the conference.

According to Kayyal, his participation was no secret, as he both published about it in As-Safir as well as on his Facebook wall.

Despite the gag order, during which his family’s Haifa home was searched twice by police, his arrest was widely reported in the Arab world and many sites began campaigning for his release.

On Monday, US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki responded to a question about Kayyal by saying the US was looking into the reports of his detention.

According to Haaretz, Kayyal is a known political activist within Israeli Arab society. In recent years, as a voting member of the Balad party, he was one of the leaders of the protest against Israel’s Prawer Plan for Bedouin resettlement in the Negev.

He also participated in a November 2011 flotilla from Istanbul to Gaza held a year-and-a-half after the Mavi Marmara affair. The Israeli Navy boarded the two ships that took part in the second flotilla, and Kayyal was held for several hours before his release.

Suha Halifa and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: